Enhanced understanding of molecular interactions and function underlying pain processes through networks of transcript isoforms, genes, and gene families

Pan Zhang, Bruce R. Southey, Jonathan V. Sweedler, Amynah Pradhan, Sandra L. Rodriguez-Zas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: Molecular networks based on the abundance of mRNA at the gene level and pathway networks that relate families or groups of paralog genes have supported the understanding of interactions between molecules. However, multiple molecular mechanisms underlying health and behavior, such as pain signal processing, are modulated by the abundances of the transcript isoforms that originate from alternative splicing, in addition to gene abundances. Alternative splice variants of growth factors, ion channels, and G-protein-coupled receptors can code for proteoforms that can have different effects on pain and nociception. Therefore, networks inferred using abundance from more agglomerative molecular units (eg, gene family, or gene) have limitations in capturing interactions at a more granular level (eg, gene, or transcript isoform, respectively) do not account for changes in the abundance at the transcript isoform level. Objective: The objective of this study was to evaluate the relative benefits of network inference using abundance patterns at various aggregate levels. Methods: Sparse networks were inferred using Gaussian Markov random fields and a novel aggregation criterion was used to aggregate network edges. The relative advantages of network aggregation were evaluated on two molecular systems that have different dimensions and con-nectivity, circadian rhythm and Toll-like receptor pathways, using RNA-sequencing data from mice representing two pain level groups, opioid-induced hyperalgesia and control, and two central nervous system regions, the nucleus accumbens and the trigeminal ganglia. Results: The inferred networks were benchmarked against the Kyoto Encyclopedia of Genes and Genomes reference pathways using multiple criteria. Networks inferred using more granular information performed better than networks inferred using more aggregate informa-tion. The advantage of granular inference varied with the pathway and data set used. Discussion: The differences in inferred network structure between data sets highlight the differences in OIH effect between central nervous system regions. Our findings suggest that inference of networks using alternative splicing variants can offer complementary insights into the relationship between genes and gene paralog groups.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)49-69
Number of pages21
JournalAdvances and Applications in Bioinformatics and Chemistry
StatePublished - 2021


  • Alternative splicing
  • Gaussian Markov random fields
  • Pain
  • Pathway
  • RNA-seq
  • Transcript isoform network

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry (miscellaneous)
  • Biochemistry
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology (miscellaneous)
  • Computer Science Applications


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